MATCH PREVIEW | Merrick to go for Attacking Line Up


Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix will meet in Round 7 of the 2013-14 A-League season at Allianz Stadium on Saturday November 23 at 5.30pm AEDT (7.30pm NZ Time, Sky Sport 4).


Wellington Phoenix head coach Ernie Merrick won-t be holding back when his team go in search of their first season win when taking on Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday evening.

While Merrick won-t name his starting line up till just prior to kick off he has indicated he will go with an attacking side.

That approach was confirmed when he left central defender Michael Boxall at home and recalled Costa Rican international Kenny Cunningham.

Merrick has been impressed by Boxall this season and the fact that he is going into the game with no central defensive cover speaks volumes.

The 1-1 draw with Perth Glory in Christchurch was disappointing for Merrick as he felt his team had done enough to take the three points.

“We stopped pressing after we scored an early goal and that let Perth back into the game,” Merrick said.

“Once Perth equalised we began pressing them again and had enough chances to win the game.

“I have emphasised this week it is important that we press even harder once we have scored a goal.”

It has been a disrupted few weeks with players absent for various reasons and captain Andrew Durante is confident now everyone is back a win is on the horizon.

“I-m sure it has been frustrating for Ernie,” Durante said.

“He hasn-t been able to really nail down a first XI and had to change his sessions because of players being away.

“That has probably played a part in why we haven-t yet won.

“We-ve played some good football but haven-t nailed it for 90 minutes.

“Hopefully that will happen in Sydney.”

Head to head:

Played: 22 – Wins: Sydney 10, Wellington 11. Draws: 1

Previous encounter:

Sydney FC 7-1 Wellington Phoenix, January 19, 2013.


Past five matches:

Sydney: WWLLL

Wellington: DLDDL

The game:

Two weeks must seem like a lifetime ago for Frank Farina and Sydney FC. Going into the ‘Big Blue’ against Melbourne Victory in Round 5, the ex-Socceroos boss was reportedly coaching to save his future at the Harbour City team. Cue a helter-skelter 3-2 victory over their arch enemies, followed quickly by a convincing 2-0 win away to the lame ducks of Melbourne Heart, and the pressure has eased considerably.

Nevertheless, there remain numerous question marks over the Sky Blues. Alessandro Del Piero has been at the centre of everything good they have done this season, against Newcastle in Round 1 and again in their previous two outings. There will surely be more occasions this season when they are without the Italian marquee and talisman, most likely through injury. Is there an effective Plan B when the former Juventus man is not available?

As for the Phoenix, some of the Kiwi outfit have enjoyed two weeks off due to international commitments. Others have not been so fortunate, and it will be interesting to see what toll, mentally and physically, New Zealand’s harrowing two-legged World Cup playoff against Mexico take on their premier club team. The All Whites were thumped 5-1 by Mexico and saw their Brazil 2014 dream melt away in the cauldron of the Azteca Stadium, before inevitably falling well short in the return fixture. Will Ernie Merrick’s side receive a boost as the international contingent look to take out their frustrations and disappointments on Sydney FC? Or will the hangover of their fruitless round-the-world adventure leave the Phoenix flat and ripe for the taking?

Let’s not forget there’s also the matter of that 7-1 thumping Phoenix received at the hands of Sydney in previous meeting. The psychological influence of that result on the teams’ respective preparations could be revealed this weekend.

The big issue:

Sydney FC – Will the other 10 players in sky blue shirts please stand up? OK, so it’s not quite that bad. But Sydney’s reliance on Del Piero is dangerous. The vast majority of their productive, dangerous play goes through the World Cup winner and understandably so. But there’s plenty of other talented players in Farina’s squad, and ‘ADP’ needs to be the icing on the cake, rather than the whole dessert himself. In particular Richard Garcia, the second most experienced player in Sydney’s frontline, needs to start sharing more of the creative and attacking burden.

Wellington Phoenix – Is a change as good as a holiday? The change for Glen Moss, Jacob Spoonley, Andrew Durante, Ben Sigmund, Jeremy Brockie and Leo Bertos was flying half way around the world to be absolutely smashed by a team who have had more coaches in the last six weeks than the Phoenix have points so far this season. The effects of such a journey and such a result are highly unlikely to be restorative for a side still searching for their first victory this season. Can the Phoenix and their hefty Kiwi contingent get it together in time for the clash at Allianz Stadium?

The game-breaker

Louis Fenton. Yes, that’s right – it’s Wellington’s 20-year-old converted fullback. The youngster who burst on to the scene last season as an attacking winger has been pushed to right-back by Ernie Merrick, and yet to fully convince in the role. In Round 5 Del Piero gave Melbourne Victory’s own inexperienced wide defender Jason Geria a torrid time when he ventured out to the flanks. And if the Italian decides he may get more joy attacking down the wing than through the centre, Fenton could be in for a tough game.

However, the clash with Sydney could also represent an opportunity for Fenton to thrive. Farina started Ali Abbas at left-back last time out in place of the suspended Marc Warren, and although he has acquitted himself well, it is not the Iraqi midfielder’s natural position. If Sydney’s nominated wide forward cuts inside often, that could leave Abbas – or whoever gets the nod from Farina this week – exposed to overlapping runs from the attack-minded Fenton.